Sports Marketing Success on Social


The Guardian recently published this article by me on how to effectively capitalise on sports events in social. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.


The Super Bowl has historically been a seminal marketing event for real-time social media activations. It really began with Oreo’s famous “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet back in 2013 – proving that quick creative thinking, even coupled with a semi-subtle sales push, can capture the attention of the online community.

Since then, social has become an even stronger influence on event-focused marketing. Brand strategies around tournaments like Wimbledon and of course, the 2014 FIFA World Cup were increasingly focused on and in some cases, even led by social, often with great success. But the formula of brand plus event equals marketing success doesn’t necessarily add up. There are certain key considerations that any marketer should think about when looking to capitalise on event conversations.

What are you doing here?
Fans care about what’s happening on the field first and foremost. They are inundated with both sports-focused and brand-led content and are now very unforgiving of anything that doesn’t fit with their experience. Always think audience first – what is their reason for re-tweeting / sharing your content? If your brand or campaign does not have a natural affiliation with the sport, or a relevant message to talk about, stay away.

Domino’s Pizza’s awkward tweets from last year’s Super Bowl showed that you can’t shoehorn yourself into a conversation. Fans will either call you out or ignore your efforts – all that’s in it is for you is embarrassment or a potential waste of money. Only choose to get involved with events that fit with your brand and your overall marketing strategy.

Preparation is key
Once you’ve decided that an event is relevant to you, next step is preparation – and lots of it. There are hundreds of potential moments that you could activate against in any sporting event, so you need to plan meticulously to ensure that you know “your moments” and that you are ready for every possibility.

Time should be spent mapping every possible scenario and trying to predict the unpredictable. When it comes to the event, everyone in the team should understand the vision, the right moments that you are looking for and importantly, their roles and responsibilities. The publishing process should be seamless as you can’t afford to waste any time when the right moment comes along.

Before the World Cup, adidas planned its social media campaign six months in advance; by May they were ready to react to every crucial moment at the rippling of a net in a social marketplace where being first was key. You need to be able to to react with the right story, the right copy, the right content and created for the right platforms. And of course, to deliver on all of this, you need to build a bespoke, committed and passionate team first.

Understand your audience
Make sure you do your research, speak your fans’ language in the right tone of voice. Your marketing team should know the sport inside out – the history, the culture, the nuances. Get to know the channels your target audience will be communicating on. Twitter is an obvious real-time opportunity but don’t overlook the potential of platforms like YouTube for getting closer to fans with authentic branded content, or Tumblr to drive deeper levels of engagement. Use data to understand your consumers and how to accelerate the conversation with them. For example, younger Twitter users react well if provided with short, quirky video and photography featuring sports and entertainment talent.

Across all platforms, timeliness, great copy and creative is vital. This will inspire a ‘badge of honour’ mentality – if your audience identifies with your content, they will share it, there and then. Brands and publishers have a very limited window of opportunity to deliver this to fans. Learn what works and what doesn’t and be ready to adapt accordingly.

Be Bold
To be successful, brands have to be bold and brave in their creative. Quality content is more important than ever; in today’s crowded newsfeeds, you have to say something different and impactful to stand out from the pack and cut through. You need a point of view, a story, and a killer visual to bring it to life. You also need to be prepared to back your best work with paid media investment. Social is no longer a free marketplace for brands – but a great piece of creative work with the right strategic investment will produce results.